Saturday, July 20, 2013

Breakfast at Nordic Bakery

For breakfast on our third day in London we went to Nordic Bakery off of Marylebone Street.

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Tucked between cute little shops and brick homes, Nordic Bakery smells of Sweden. 

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Cinnamon, allspice, sugar, coffee...it brings me back to mid-morning fika in Gotland. 

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The atmosphere was mixed - business meeting in one corner, mom with a baby in the other.  A great place to meet up for everyone, I think.

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The man sitting across from us rolled his eyes when I took this photo.  

"So, why did you just take a picture of that wall?  People always do, and I seriously don't get it."

"Well, the colors are pleasing, the grey is really lovely, the typography is simple and Scandinavian...I guess I just like it."

Also---somewhat tangentially, being in this restaurant sparked quite the conversation between my friend the world traveler and I regarding the question "Where are you from?"

In the US, to me, you ask this question both as a conversation-starter and a courtesy, and the answer gives you a fairly quick way to judge someone...what they say opens up the possibilities for finding out what you have in common, and what you don't.  This was my grandfather's favorite way to steer an introduction, ferreting out that "wow, our grandparents lived in the same town!" or "it seems we have the same dentist, what a small world!"  He lived to find those things that would endear himself to people and bind them together.  He created trust out of thin air by finding these connections (probably why he made such a good middle school counselor and traveler, his ease with other people). You could also say that Americans are fundamentally more nosy about such things...and we define ourselves by who we are, where we come from, and where our families come from, so knowing that gives a peek into what someone is all about.

But in Europe, it seems that this question is asked less because someone is curious and more because it's just a one-liner in a conversation.  And for me, all they would want is "I go to school in Boston."  Not my family, not Minnesota, not the fact that my family comes from Switzerland and Sweden, and my connection to my heritage.  This was made brutally apparent by the same guy criticizing my photography choices when I said "this smells just like home!"

"Oh, so you're from Sweden?"

"Well, not exactly.  My family is from there, so I've visited, but I didn't grow up there."

"So you're not actually Swedish...you wouldn't know if this is just like home or not."

To me, I walked out feeling annoyed.  No, I'm not Swedish.  I didn't grow up there, and my Swedish language skills are comprised entirely of food (and hedgehogs).  But I have fostered a connection to Sweden and especially Swedish food that I'm pretty sure makes me qualified to judge whether the spice mixtures in a place called Nordic Bakery are typical for Scandinavia.  Who is he to judge me without knowing me?

"Well, Bridget, you were misleading.  You're not Swedish.  You're American.  End of story."

"But that's not the whole story!  That guy doesn't know that I've spent years making Swedish cookies and pastries....I may not be actually Swedish in the from Sweden sense, but I do know what I'm talking about!"

"But that's the point, you're not Swedish.  You're American."

So, even if my interaction was with a particularly grumpy Brit, the sentiment behind the story remains the same.  Regardless of the interesting stories of where you've lived, tales of ancestors coming over through Ellis Island, the whole deal...Americans are wholly, completely American in Europe.  End of story. 

2 comments:

Mary Kay said...

Interesting conversation - both with the guy in the bakery and with your friend. Instead of telling people in Europe that my family is from Norway, Germany, etc., I've switched and now say that those countries are where my ancestors are from. The declaration is almost always greeted with total disinterest but for some reason I still feel the need to mention it.

Bridget said...

This conversation was on my list of the most surprising things I encountered in Europe. I guess I expected people that live there to be at least somewhat interested (or feign interest for the sake of conversation) in where I came from, especially given that one of the reasons for my trip was visiting the home of my ancestors in Switzerland. But to my absolute surprise, total disinterest is exactly the reaction. And that is so different from here in the states. Whether that comes from our motley immigrant past or from post-war Europe deciding that ethnic ties don't matter as much, or some combination of the two, it's still a surprising reaction to me.